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Published: Friday, 4/19/2013

Toledoan receives 8½-year sentence for fatal accident

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Tears flowed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court on Thursday as Elena Gonzalez offered forgiveness to the man whose decision to drink and drive left her brother dead.

“I forgive you because it’s what my brother would’ve wanted,” Ms. Gonzalez told Francisco Cortez, her late brother Paul’s best friend. “That’s the type of person he was, and that’s how I’m choosing to honor his memory.”

Cortez, 22, of 754 Prouty Ave. was sentenced to 8½ years in prison by Judge Ruth Ann Franks for aggravated vehicular homicide and for an unrelated charge of illegal conveyance of drugs of abuse into a detention facility. Judge Franks also suspended his driver’s license for life and ordered him to pay $6,076 to Maria Gonzalez for her son’s funeral expenses.

Cortez was behind the wheel of a borrowed car Feb. 27, 2012, driving at an estimated 65 mph when the car struck a pole near Harvard Boulevard. The impact was so intense, the car split in two and killed Mr. Gonzalez, 25, who was in the back seat. A blood test later showed Cortez’s blood-alcohol level at 0.11.

“I don’t blame you for my brother’s death,” Ms. Gonzalez told Cortez. “I blame everyone that could’ve prevented this accident and didn’t. I blame the person for giving you the keys to the car knowing you didn’t have a license, the person providing you with the alcohol and not taking your keys.”

She said her brother was a husband and father to three sons — the youngest of whom was not yet born when he was killed.

“A week before the accident, he got to see a 3-D ultrasound of his youngest son,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “He was so happy he showed my Mom and said, ‘Look Mom, you can tell he looks just like me.’ ”

Judge Franks pointed out that Cortez had ignored numerous wake-up calls leading up to the fatal crash, including a previous drunken-driving arrest, two felony convictions as a juvenile, and repeated decisions to drive with a suspended driver’s license.

“The warnings were there for you, which you ignored,” she said.

Judge Franks said his decision to have someone send marijuana through the mail to him at the Lucas County jail last month added insult to injury.

“I’d like to apologize to the family of Paul Gonzalez,” Cortez said. “... I did not mean for this to happen, and I am sorry.”

His attorney, Ronnie Wingate, said Cortez began drinking and using drugs when he was 15 or 16 and suggested it took “a significant event” to change his ways.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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